Monday, February 26, 2007

Political theory in the West begins with the Bible

If the Bible is such a darn big deal, shouldn't it be an even bigger deal in Western political philosophy? Who took the "Judeo" out of "Judeo-Christian"? In late December, the question hung wonderfully over Mishkenot Sha'ananim, Jerusalem's distinguished guest house. Inside the complex, more than 130 attendees from nine countries milled about the colloquium on "Political Hebraism: Jewish Sources in the History of Political Thought."
Political theorist Yoram Hazony, of the Shalem Center, the 13-year-old research institute playing host, gently noted during opening remarks that their rising scholarly sun — political Hebraism — increasingly lit up Western political thought, revealing forgotten elements. In Carolingian France, Hazony noted, people spoke of "the New Israel," and addressed Charlemagne as King David. The Venerable Bede bore biblical notions in mind as he put forth the English people as a nation. English kings, some thought, should follow Deuteronomy before worrying about the Greek polis or Roman republic.
Plato and Aristotle may have been lost in the Dark Ages, Hazony continued, but the Bible was not. In contrast to the "German story," or canon of political philosophy, drafted in German universities, Hazony conjured, "Imagine political theory in the West as something that begins with the Bible, and continues with the English-Dutch adoption of the Bible, leading to the creation of the U.S. and Israel."
Yet, he pointed out, courses on the Bible's political ideas — the concept of a nation, the aspiration for international peace among independent nations, the subordination of a king to law, the notion of authority that does not arise out of rebellion — hardly exist. "One thing is sure about these texts," concluded Hazony about the books of the Bible. "They are overwhelmingly political." Political Hebraism. Mark the phrase.

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